From Mouna Ragam to Kaatru Veliyidai, Mani Ratnam is the master of romance
With every film, Mani Ratnam tries to bring in changes to the man-woman relationship on screen as reflected in society.
He is one of India’s best directors who has explored almost every aspect of a relationship between a man and a woman. Mani Ratnam is considered not just a master storyteller but also the master of romance and in his 25th film, Kaatru Veliyidai, he continues this legacy.
In his latest release, Kaatru Veliyidai, the director explores the relationship between Varun, an army officer, and Dr Leela. While VC (Varun) tells Leela he’s her slave, it’s clearly not a relationship of equals — VC is selfish, sexist, and believes that the girlfriend /wife should be submissive. This is an abusive relationship and the only way a highly-educated Leela can cope is to leave VC and escape the situation.
While one can debate whether Mani Ratnam was right in romanticising an abusive relationship, the truth is that this is the reality in many cases. Women in love tend to be more forgiving and overlook the drawbacks in a man though her friends and family tell her otherwise. Both Varun and Leela are complicated individuals (like most people today) and that’s what the director tries to convey subtlety throughout the film.
Many of the director’s films have explored various facets — conventional and unconventional — of a romantic relationship. Speaking about unconventional, Mani Ratnam started his film career in 1983 with an avant-garde topic — he told the story of Vijay, a younger man, and his attraction to Anu, an older married woman. And he moved to another unconventional theme in 2010 with Raavanan when he showed a much-married Raagini fall in love with her kidnapper, Veeraiya. He told us love doesn’t have boundaries and age, caste, creed, language, religion, money or education is not a barrier.
With every film, Ratnam tries to bring in changes to the man-woman relationship on screen as reflected in society. Love in the time of an arranged marriage was a theme he explored in numerous films. Take Mouna Ragam. Mani Ratnam tells us the story of a young woman who had a past relationship and is not able to accept her new husband. What changes in their relationship? Why does this arranged marriage eventually work? How does she fall in love with him? These are questions he answers in the film.
Roja too explores the arranged marriage scenario. A young woman mechanically goes through an arranged marriage but falls in love with her husband only much later. She then goes on to fight for his life moving mountains to get him back alive.
In most of his films, love conquers all whether society, war, terrorism or death. If Geethanjali was love trying to defy death (two youngsters who are terminally ill fall in love), Alaipaythey showed us how a couple defies society to get married and the issues they face early in marriage.
With religion and faith being much talked about due to the Babri Masjid issue (1992), the director penned an inter-faith story situated in this milieu. Bombay revealed to us the issues and fears a Hindu-Muslim couple faced during this turbulent time.
But the master storyteller has also told us that love can unite a couple in death like Amarkant and Mona in Dil Se and separate them thanks to crime like Inba and Sashi in Ayutha Ezhuthu.
However, relationships have undergone a sea change today. Dating, live-in relationships and having numerous partners before marriage are now par for the course. With O Kadhal Kanmani, Ratnam explored some of these aspects showing us how love can surmount problems arising out of the different ambitions of a couple.
Through this cinematic journey, Mani Ratnam has shown us so many different facets of love and romance. But one thing to note is that his heroines have always been strong women though it might not seem so at first glance. In Kaatru Veliyidai, Leela might move away from VC but she defies societal norms to bear a child out of wedlock. In Roja, an uneducated, simple village girl goes to the highest echelons of the Indian army to fight for her husband’s life. In O Kadhal Kanmani, Taara decides that marriage is not for her as her career was most important.
Most of Mani Ratnam’s have memorable lead characters because he understands the tiny nuances in a relationship. A glance, a touch, a smile, a sigh — all of them convey more than a 1000 words in his films. When you walk out of the theatre, his on-screen romances make you long for a love like that — beautiful, warm and euphoric.
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